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What to Do When a Training Client Can’t Get the Exercise Technique Right

If you’ve ever struggled to teach a client a particular exercise that they just aren’t getting, you know how frustrating it can feel—for both of you. Your job as a personal trainer is to help clients learn the exercise technique, but that process can get awkward if the client feels embarrassed or discouraged by their lack of mastery. You might also feel this way for missing the mark on how to teach it. Your best line of defense for diffusing these potentially high-pressure situations is to prepare multiple options for breaking down an exercise. Try using the suggestions below as a starting point to achieve success.

Save it until the end

As long as the client isn’t at risk of injury, sometimes it’s best to leave a detailed technique tutorial until the end of the set or better yet, the workout, especially if you’re dealing with a case of “learner’s block” that’s made worse when there’s pressure to perform.

Besides that, you might interrupt the flow of the workout when you spend too much time breaking down an exercise. If a client isn’t getting a particular move, regress it a bit and reserve a few minutes at the end of the session—once the client has cooled down—to “workshop” the exercise progression. With the workout over, there’s less pressure to accomplish the right technique asap.

Cater to multiple learning styles

As a personal trainer, you might have observed that people prefer to learn a new exercise in different ways, such as by watching, listening and/or doing. Usually a combination of all three works well, perhaps with an emphasis on one particular style.

Most personal trainers naturally notice which approach works best for which clients. Still, get in the habit of using a variety of teaching techniques when needed. For example: show the client what the exercise looks like by doing it yourself. As you visually demonstrate, explain what’s happening. Invite clients to perform the exercise with you. Remember that touch, when appropriate and with a client’s permission, can also provide feedback on what to focus on. Continue to demonstrate, explain and perhaps modify as needed.

Use props and tech tools

Trainers are known for using props such as a bar, band or dowel to help demonstrate proper movement angles with clients. Sometimes asking clients to look in the mirror is all it takes for them to see—and correct—what’s going wrong with their form. This might be especially true for people who are visual learners.

If that doesn’t work, or there are no mirrors for them to watch their form, turn to your phone for assistance. Take photos or video of clients in action to help them understand and correct technique problems (be sure to get their permission to do this first). Mobile apps like Coach’s Eye and Hudl Technique allow you to go in-depth with on-the-spot footage or video imported from your camera roll. For example, you can view slow-motion playback and draw lines, angles and arrows on a video or photo to review and analyze problematic or desired movement patterns.

Go back to the drawing board

If a client still hasn’t improved after a thorough tutorial, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the progression you’ve chosen. Re-start the exercise with something less advanced, temporarily eliminating or lightening the load. Remove any other equipment if appropriate and go back to bodyweight basics.

It might also be that the client needs more time to become aware of, and properly isolate, a muscle or muscle group involved in a given exercise before you can move on. Opt for foundational mastery before getting too complex.

Let it go

Finally, if a particular exercise seems to create a stumbling block for multiple clients, you might need to face the fact that it’s not the right exercise for right now. Perhaps some clients need to do more foundational work before they’re ready for this next step. If you can’t logically tweak the movement so it’s more user-friendly, consider ditching it (for the time being, at least).

Personal trainers are responsible for helping fitness clients improve and progress. To that end, carefully break down exercises and carry on from there, using the tips in this blog post.

Do you have additional tips for breaking down exercises with clients? Share your recommendations in the comments section below!

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The Author

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA, human kinetics, is a self-employed fitness instructor, presenter and writer in Vancouver, B.C. In addition to being a social media consultant, Amanda tests fitness gadgets, gear and clothes and writes about them on her blog www.FitnessTestDrive.com. Find Amanda at @amandavogel on Twitter and @amandavogelfitness on Instagram. She will be presenting workshops at #NASMOptima 2017 on: 1) social media’s impact on body image and the fitness message, and 2) social media marketing for fitness professionals.